If someone dies from coronavirus or, complications resulting from it, several things may be particularly hard for family and friends to deal with. Infection controls can mean that family members do not have an opportunity to spend time with their loved one or to say goodbye to them in person. Not being able to be present for a loved one’s death can make it even more difficult to accept this as a reality. Severe restrictions on the numbers allowed to attend funerals inevitably means that many family and friends will be unable to be together, to grieve the loss of a loved one and to support each other. Anyone who is feeling bereaved at this time may therefore be dealing with the increased trauma from not being able to say a proper goodbye or to surround themselves with their family and friends.
When someone close to us dies, it can have a profound effect on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. At first, we might feel numb and unable to accept what has happened. It is also common and, completely normal to feel, anger, guilt, stress, sorrow, loneliness, exhaustion, anxiety and longing for the person who has died. These emotions tend to come in waves and, although they may become get less frequent as we move through the grieving process, they may never fully disappear. Special times in the year, such as birthdays or anniversaries, can bring these same emotions back again.
Each person also copes with bereavement in their own way. There is no ‘correct’ way to grieve. In fact, members of the same family can sometimes respond to the same bereavement, in quite different way. This may cause additional anguish, as relations can become tense and strained. People also differ in the length of time they grieve and most find that adjusting to the reality of bereavement can take time, with feelings ebbing and flowing. During this time too, some people notice changes in their physical health, especially in their sleep patterns, appetite and levels of tiredness. This too can be due to the intense emotions and stress being experienced.
When anyone feels very distressed, it is important to try to share these feelings with someone who is trusted. Talking things through can be very comforting and being present with someone in their grief is one of the most precious gifts we can give. All we have to do is listen, comfort and walk beside them.
Pope Francis asks us to remember that: ‘Death is an experience that affects all families, without any exception. It is a part of life and yet, when it touches family affections, death is never able to be seen as something natural.’ But, despite the pain caused, he says: ‘Through faith in the Resurrection, one can be consoled by the fact that our loved ones are not lost in the darkness of nothingness. By allowing oneself to be sustained in this faith, the experience of mourning can strengthen the bonds within the family. The Gospel says that Jesus gave him back to his mother. And this is our hope! That all of our dear ones who have gone away – all of them – the Lord will give them back to us and we will meet with them together.’ (General Audience address in St. Peter’s Square, 2015).
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth In your soul
where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
Cruse Bereavement Care www.cruse.org.uk provides free support, advice and information for adults, children and young people. Opening hours Monday-Friday 9.30am-5.00pm (excluding bank holidays), with extended hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, until 8pm.
National Freephone Helpline: 0808 808 1677. Bereavement Advice Centre: www.bereavementadvice.org provides practical help and advice on what to do when someone dies, including guides to death certificates, organising the funeral and coping with grief. Contact number: 0800 634 9494.
GriefChat: www.griefchat.co.uk is a safe online space where people can share their story, explore their feelings and be supported by a qualified bereavement counsellor. The service is free of charge and is open Monday-Friday, 9am9pm (UK time) for people who are grieving or bereaved.
Details of other local support organisations can be found at: www.mindingyourhead.info in the “Services” section.